[su_dropcap size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] remember an elementary school teacher–we’ll keep her nameless–who was alarmed to see me practicing numbers and letters with my left hand. She informed me that it wasn’t Godly to write that way, and I should immediately switch to my right. I tried, with every ounce of concentration my tiny brain could pool together, to comply with this retrospectively bizarre demand. Unfortunately, all my right-handed words looked like something a Cro Magnon scrawled on a cave wall, and she eventually gave up the fight. I touch on that story to illustrate how much the small town/religious satire of Yes, God, Yes hit close to home. Yeah, it made me laugh out loud, but it also provoked a lot of cringing, often at the same time.
The story takes place around 2000, in some unnamed shitburg where the teachers, preachers, and parents scowl and hover over their children like the Gestapo guards in Stalag 17. We begin in a Catholic school’s sex ed class, in which a passively cruel priest (Timothy Simons) spends the hour pouring buckets of shame and guilt all over his students: Sex is the domain of a heterosexual married couple, and its sole purpose is for reproduction. To think any other way…well, it’s just not Godly.
Alice (Natalia Dyer) absorbs all this misinformation with a look of profound confusion. At 16, she has racy impulses, fantasies, and a burgeoning curiosity. (The Titanic scene where Kate and Leo go bow chicka wow wow is of particular interest.) But no, no, no–these thoughts are just wrong, she is told. They’re like dirty laundry that has to be mashed into a hamper and clamped shut forever.
Things only get more precarious when Alice is the victim of a malicious rumor traveling the student body. She’s falsely accused of–gasp–“tossing a boy’s salad,” even though she has no idea know what that phrase means. In response, Alice and her best friend (Francesca Reale) resolve to attend a local Christian youth retreat, where they can rehabilitate their social standing. Turns out, this camp is a perfect storm of repressed sexuality, randy teenagers, and religious hypocrisy that forces Alice to take a harder look at her own sexual awareness and desire for personal growth.
Writer-director Karen Maine handles a tender subject with a surprisingly deft touch. The movie is frank with its sexual language and innuendos, but because we see most of it through the lens of Alice’s naiveté, it never feels incredibly raunchy. In fact, Dyer does such a great job of making Alice seem so tabula rasa that it’s hard not to relate to her. Most of us were Alice at some point–innocent, fascinated, and frightened. Yes, God, Yes will make you wince both because it’s funny, and because you’ve been in her shoes.
Satires enlarge the traits of their subjects for comic effect, like a caricaturist at a state fair. Yes, God, Yes shows us a community of right-handed Puritans who only have sex to make more Puritans. Their qualities may get exaggerated for laughs, but not by as much as you might think. Turn the dial a couple clicks and you have what childhood was like for quite a few people. Take that from someone who once earned the permanent contempt of a primary school teacher, simply for being left-handed.
79 min. R.